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Reduce Stress – Be a Better Teacher

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Burned out? Overwhelmed? Exhausted? Whether you’re a student teacher, new teacher or seasoned professional, you may find yourself overcome by stress at this time of the year. You never think twice about being there for your students and responding to their needs. But what about you? If you don’t take care of yourself, your job will become a burden and you’ll lose your effectiveness in the classroom.

Many teachers work to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion. The reality is that teachers are busy day and night; they are asked to take on many extra duties; they are exposed to germs and viruses daily; and they encounter normative life stresses from family, friends, students and parents. As a career counselor/family therapist, I’ve devised a few brief, easy ways to help even my busiest clients improve their lives.

1. Eat well. Fatty foods, sugar and carbohydrates – the foundations of fast foods – sap energy.
2. Exercise. Taking a daily walk will loosen muscles, reduce tension, and give your mind a chance to clear. Even 15-20 minutes of walking can improve your perspective.
3. Take a multi-vitamin. It supplies important nutrients while protecting your immune system.
4. Avoid over-use of coffee and alcohol. Coffee is a stimulant; alcohol is a depressant. Both may make you feel good briefly, but they can fray your nerves in the long term.
5. Organize your time – PLAN. Make lists – they do work! Prioritize your tasks. Eliminate those that are unnecessary.
6. Don’t over-commit: Learn to say NO. You aren’t Wonder Woman or Superman. You can’t do everything. People will respect you more if you are honest about what you are able to realistically accomplish.
7. Get regular rest. Lack of sleep will not only make you cranky – it will also open you to infection and illness. Establish a routine time for going to bed and getting up. All-nighters are counter-productive.
8. Rely on your mentor. If classroom pressures are wearing you down, or if you are facing difficult situations with your students, ask your mentor for suggestions on how to cope.
9. Develop your own informal support group. Peers can be great sounding boards. You can share ideas and solutions.
10. Avoid negative people. Being around people with pessimistic attitudes is depressing.
11. Avoid negative self-talk. Practice self-affirmation. Focus on what you do well. Compliment yourself!
12. Smile. It will make you feel better, and it will brighten the lives of those around you.
13. Separate yourself from work. Distance yourself from the town/city where you teach, and from your students and their parents. Establish a life apart from work.
14. Take/make time for yourself. A brief interlude is essential to your well-being. Spend 30 minutes each day doing something just for YOU. We all have our own special ways to fill this time. Ideas:
• Listen to music
• Meditate – clear your mind
• Journal – it’s a way to release your frustrations and record your memorable moments
• Practice relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery or muscle-stretching
• Read for a few minutes (I do this while I eat lunch)
• Commuting to work? Listen to a book on tape to help you decompress on the way home
15. Too much stress? Seek professional help. An hour of therapy per week may make a world of difference.

Take an inventory at the end of each day. Ask yourself what you have done for yourself that day. If you can’t come up with anything, you put yourself at a high risk for stress. You wouldn’t think of neglecting your students. Why neglect yourself?

--Dr. Dawn S. Jones,
Online Education & Health Advisor,
Northern Illinois University, on behalf of AAEE

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